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M. V. Dhurandhar - A Great Versatile Painter

- Dr. Nalini Bhagwat


M. V. Dhurandhar - A Great Versatile Painter Rao Bahadur Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar was not only a great painter but he was the person whose contribution to the art-world, Mumbai in the first half of the 20th century was the highest. He contributed in various branches of painting like portraiture, landscapes, posters, book-illustrations, genre, literature on art & black and white drawings.

Dhurandhar belonged to Kolhapur in a prestigious family which was famous for its loyalty to the Chhatrapati of Kolhapur. He was born at Mumbai in Phanaswadi, at his mother's house and he was brought up in Kolhapur. His schooling was at the Rajaram High School from where he gave the intermediate grade examination with good marks. His drawing was good and he won prices for his drawings and paintings in the high school exhibitions. He was also got fascinated after seeing the landscapes of painter Abalal Rahiman and as his elder brother requested Abalal to give him some guidance, Mahadev got some important tips in drawing and water colour rendering.


Mahadev came to Mumbai to give the matriculate examination and had opportunity to see Sir J. J. School of Art - the school for higher education in art. That proved to be a turning point in his life as in 1890 he could join the Bombay Art School. Mahadev devotedly studied with all his heart and won the minds of his teachers. Sir J. J. School of Art had a syllabus according to the Royal Academy of Art and so it gave the training of the Realistic style of painting. It gave importance to drawing and so every student had to go through severe discipline of minute drawing. After gaining mastery in drawing, he was allowed to learn watercolour and oil painting technique. In the art school he stood always first and won prizes for the best paper as well as got the scholarship.


While he was only a student in 1892 he won the prize for best black and white picture for his drawing showing high family Maharashtrian women busy in kitchen work. This picture is now preserved in the Aundh Museum. Inspired by this he continued exhibiting his paintings in the Bombay Art society's exhibition.


Before Dhurandhar, Raja Ravi Varma was very popular for his mythological paintings. Dhurandhar was also fascinated by Ravi Varma's paintings and being religious minded he also started painting the subjects of Gods and Goddesses and historical paintings too. But with these he also painted subjects like current happening in society, the people around him and their way of living, the rituals and festivals which they celebrate. We find the weddings and other happenings in the Pathare Prabhu society to which Dhurandhar belonged. Though Dhurandhar handled all branches of paintings like landscapes, illustrations, posters, craft oriented paintings or designs (like sketches for trophies, medals etc) series of paintings on one subject (like Raga- Malika, Rubayat or Ramayana, Mahabharata, Nala Damayanti series and many more), or paintings for educational aids, Dhurandhar loved the genre or figurative paintings on the daily life of common people e.g. Naivedya, Wedding, Festivals etc.


M. V. Dhurandhar - A Great Versatile PainterDhurandhar won 5 Gold medals in different exhibitions, except one which he got for his design for a Gold Medal and the others were for his figurative paintings out of which the first gold medal which he won while he was aPava Garh Champaner, Painting by M V Dhurandhar student. The second Gold Medal, he achieved was for the design of Medal which he did for the industrial exhibition in 1904. The third Gold Medal was given to Dhurandhar's painting "Naivedya" which he sent for the industrial exhibition at Pandhurpur. This was bought by Seth Narottam Morarji and Shethji presented it as a gift to the Kashmir Maharaja. Dhuradhar won the 4th Gold Medal for his water colour painting "Brides Maids" related to the subject of wedding, in the year 1910, at the Industrial Exhibition at Jalgaon. This painting is now in the Sangli Museum. Dhurandhar's watercolour painting welcome to his Highness Pancham George and H. H. Queen Mary which he exhibited in year 1912, in the industrial exhibition at Gwalior. This was full imperial size water colour. Dhurandhar's other famous paintings include "Wicked Dusshasan" which won the Governor's cash prize in Bombay Art Society's Exhibition in the year 1922. Dhurandhar's other famous painting was "Chhatrapati Shivaji", in the court of Aurangjeb at Agra. His painting "Kaikeyi" also got the Maharaja Bhavnagar's prize for the best water colour in Bombay Art Society's exhibition. This prize also was supposed to be prestigious one. His painting "Glory of Pandhrapur" was exhibited in the ‘Indian Room' at Wembley Exhibition, London also admired wholeheartedly at London by the newspaper British Empire Review.


In 1930 staff and students of Sir. J.J.School of Art painted murals for the Imperial Secretariat building at Delhi. Dhurandhar painted for the law-member's room "Streedhanam" (Wedding), "Dattavidhan", and "Donation at the time of death" and The Old Hindu Law in the British Raj (Adoption Ceremony) i.e. in all four murals for four walls of the Hon. Law-member's room. He painted the small water colour of 6" x 1" cartoons for these paintings for the final works of 24" x 6". When Solomon afterwards had an exhibition of the paintings of students of Sir. J.J.School of Art, at London one of the small preliminary paintings by Dhurandhar, "Streedhanam Adhyagani" was kept in the show. Queen Merry bought that painting.


Dhurandhar developed a habit of regular sketching from his student career. He always has a small sketchbook. When he completed his art-education and started his career as an art-teacher, he kept the same habit constantly. After he passed away he left behind him nearly 80-85 sketchbooks which were a real treasure. These were various sizes from a small note book of 3" x 6" size upto a big size (12" x 15") sketch book upto 1/4th imperial size. He recorded in them whatever he saw around him in Mumbai as well as what he saw wherever he visited at the time of the excursions of Sir J.J. School of Art or the places which he visited as an inspector of Drawing and craft. These sketches were sometimes only in pencil, but some are finished in beautiful water colour or pastels. He also many times recorded under the sketch the date and place where he has done. As he toured widely during his tenure as the Inspector of Drawing and Craft, in these sketches we can see the costumes if the people from several provinces and the vehicles they used in those days as well as the scenes from various places from Bombay Presidency which covered the area from Karnataka in South upto Lahore and Lucknow in upper India. These sketches therefore are important from the view of social history of India.


Selecting the sketches of women from various parts of India, he published an Album "Women of India". This Album was much appreciated by critics as well as Art lovers similarly he prepared another album of the sketches of his two wives; Bapubai and Gangubai. The first wife passed away after one and half years after the marriage due to plague. The second wife stayed upto his last and the credit goes to her as she managed the home-front very well so Dhurandhar could continue his painting without any worry. Out of these paintings / sketches, some are made with sheer memory or some were done rapidly and completed afterwards. After his retirement he separated them from his sketchbook and arranged them systematically. He also got these bound together with a fine cover and gave a title ‘My wife in Art'. He wrote a very touching introduction to it in his own hand- Writing and dedicated it to memories of both the wives. This Album could not be published though his daughter tried hard. Now we don't know where it is. This may be the only Album made by a painter husband done affectionately after sketching her at different times in different situations.


In 1927 Dhurandhar was awarded the title of Rao Bahadur. Meanwhile the scheme of decorating the secretariat building and decoration of Viceroy's house was passed and Solomon succeeded in getting six artists of Sir J. J. School of Art approved for participation in this scheme. Dhurandhar was given the commissioned work of 4 paintings of size 24' x 4' for the 4 walls of Law Member room. The other rooms were given to artist- A. A. Bhonsale, Ahivasi, Minoggi, Dhopeshwarkar, Shenoy, Colaco, Kavli and others). This scheme was very successful and paintings were praised by the critics and the Governor too.


After coming from Delhi, Dhurandhar was again appointed by Solomon as a visiting professor of painting upto April 1930. When Solomon wanted a leave of six months for going abroad he recommended that Dhurandhar must be given the charge of officiating Director instead of finding some British person. Thus finally Dhurandhar was appointed as the officiating Director upto the return of Solomon. Thus he became the first Indian person getting such an important position. Dhurandhar carried out this job successfully with proper dignity. After Solomon came back Dhurandhar worked as a visiting lecturer upto 31st Jan. 1931. He was again appointed as the Inspector (Drawing and Crafts) which he did upto December 1931 and thus completed 41 years relationship with Sir. J.J. School of Art.


After retirement Dhurandhar got some free time and he started writing his memories which due to his strong memory he could complete with ‘a detailed report of the date and year of the happenings' upto 1931. This with addition of photographs of his selected paintings and important persons with when he came into contact and his important students who achieved fame as a painter or teacher of painting class. This book was published in1940 with a title ‘kalamanchiratil Ekkechalis Varshe' ( from Jan. 1890 to Jan. 1931 ). This books gives a detailed report of the important incidents in Sir. J.J. School of Art as well as in Dhurandhar's personal life. This was the first book of this type in Marathi and therefore became important for the artists and art-students. This proved to be great achievement. In addition to this in 1933 Dhurandhar also wrote a series of Articles with the title ‘Maze Samakalin Chitrakar' (Contemporary Artists) giving information to nearly 15 artists of his time and their art. These articles included the information and art of one artist e.g. Pithawala, S. P. Agaskar, Dwarkanath Mahatre, Chudekar, Parandekar, Haldankar, Talawlekar, Sardesai and few others. Thus Dhurandhar's contribution as a writer on art also is important.